Child Support Guidelines

One of the first questions that a couple with children will ask a divorce mediator is how child support is determined? New York State has guidelines to determine the appropriate level of child support based upon the combined incomes of both the “custodial” and “non­custodial parent”. Those guidelines are as follows:

  • 17% for 1 child
  • 25% for 2 children
  • 29% for 3 children
  • 31% for 4 children
  • not less than 35% for 5 or more children

The law creates a step­by­step method for determining the appropriate level of child support to be paid by the non­custodial parent. The first step is to determine the income of both parents. For the purposes of the law, the term “income” is given an extremely broad definition and encompasses all income, both direct and indirect. After the income of the parties is calculated, the law provides for certain deductions before arriving at the income available for child support purposes (for example, medicare, FICA, and local income taxes are deducted­ but not state or federal income taxes). The remaining income is considered the income of the parties available for child support.

Once the income available for child support is determined, it is multiplied by the appropriate percentage listed above, and the responsibility apportioned between the custodial and non-custodial parent in proportion to their respective incomes.

The guidelines create a rebuttable presumption. That means that the court is required to order the non­custodial parent to pay child support in the amount established by the formula unless certain factors render this amount to be unjust or inappropriate. (It is not possible to predict exactly how, and under what conditions, these factors will be applied).

The non­custodial parent’s child support obligation is not necessarily limited to the dollar amount determined by that formula. On the contrary, the court must apportion between the non­custodial parent and custodial parent the future health expenses of the children not covered by insurance in the same proportion as their respective child support obligations.

Similarly, the court is required to apportion the reasonable child-care expenses incurred by the custodial parent in order to work or to complete his or her education. In addition, the court may apportion certain other expenses of the children (for example, the cost of private school or college) when it is deemed appropriate under the circumstances.

The court is required to consider all of the available income in determining the appropriate level of child support to be paid by the non­custodial parent to the custodial parent. However, whereas the court must apply the child support formula percentages to the first $143,000 of combined available income, unless it finds the amount so determined to be unjust or inappropriate based upon certain factors, it is not obligated to apply the formula to the available income in excess of $143,000.

However, this does not mean that the court needn’t consider the available income in excess of $143,000 in determining the appropriate level of child support. It just means that the court has greater flexibility in making a determination with respect to the available income in excess of $143,000 that should be allocated for child support and is not as strictly bound by the child support formula percentages. It is not possible to state exactly how the court will treat the available income in excess of $143,000.

However, if the combined parental income is only somewhat higher than $143,000 ­ for example, if it is $150,000 or $160,000 ­ the formula percentages will probably be applied to the full amount in excess of $143,000. However, if it is many times that amount ­ for example, if it is $500,000 or $600,000 ­ it is very unlikely that those formula percentages would be applied to the entire amount.

As you can see our child support guidelines give the court discretion in determining of child support. As a result, it is often impossible to predict exactly what a court would do in a particular situation. During the mediation, your mediator will help you understand how the child support guidelines may apply in your case. Oftentimes, the blind application of these guidelines does not bring about a result consistent with what a couple hopes to achieve. If that is the case, your mediator will help you to approach the issue of support in a manner that will address your particular needs or goals. Child Support law in New York State gives you the right to do this- to deviate from what the guideline amount of child support would be­ so long as you explain why you are doing so, and the court approves that rationale.